Romance novels are changing

Since I have a sometimes embarrassing fondness for romance novels (Mr. Bookworm teases me a lot), I’ve written about romance novels before (once about British chick-lit, which I think is demeaning to women; and once about the conservative morals underpinning American romances). I was therefore intrigued when AP did a little story about the Romance Writers of America’s 26th annual conference. The reporter chose to spin it by saying that the stories are changing, with more plot, and less frothy sex. That may well be true, and may explain why I like them more than I did twenty or so years ago. I’m a big believer in plot. What’s also interesting is the claim that, as the genre explands outwards, it’s attracting more male readers:

With the expansion of romance novels into science fiction and military tales, though, the male following is increasing, said Nicole Kennedy, a spokeswoman for the group. The 2004 market survey indicated that male readership jumped from 7 percent of romance readers in 2002 to 22 percent in 2004.

Kennedy cited the success of Suzanne Brockmann, who has written two series of romance novels featuring Navy SEAL teams, which Kennedy said are wildly popular among Navy SEALs.

Though romance writing remains an almost exclusively female vocation, some men have ventured into the field. Former Green Beret Bob Mayer, who has written many non-romance books under his own name and under the pen name Robert Doherty, teamed up with veteran comedic romance writer Jenny Crusie for a military romance called “Don’t Look Down,” released this year.

Mayer and Crusie met at the Maui Writers Conference three years ago. Both were looking to do something different, and they decided to collaborate. Crusie writes the parts that come from a woman’s point of view, while Mayer weighs in with the male perspective.

That’s a big leap in male readership, and one I find heartening, considering that I like the genre, and that I believe in the values system unpinning so many of these books.

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  • Anna

    There have been comments on some of the milblogs where the guys have admitted that they have been caught reading the romance novels being sent over to Iraq in care packages.

    If you’re reading for an “escape,” what better way to do it then with a trashy romance? Hey, I like them, too, on occasion. 😉

  • Ymarsakar

    You can’t get no more conservative then the US military and the SEAL teams, that is for sure.

    Notice the SEAL and “Green Beret” mentions? Why would masculine men like those be interested in romance, of any color?

    I have a theory as to why that is. The relationships in romance novels can be summed up as “men are expendable, women are too precious to risk”. A primary motivation factor for men going into the US military is the urge to protect and to serve. Not only to protect their family and country, but to earn the respect to which service would provide them. The respect of their peers, their buddies, their officers, their NCOs, their battle comrades, and so on.

    Military men of the Special Forces variety, at least, are not fundamentalist conservatives. They don’t really believe in the adage that women should be kept at home and barefoot. What they want is an equal partnership, where everyone pulls their own weight. The thing that really annoys people, and not just in the military, is if you are part of a team that doesn’t pull its own weight. In romance novels, the heroine and the hero often times have their own personal strengths that when combined, makes for better synergy.

    In military situations of war, those strengths are tested to their limits. In the military, there are loads of stories about girlfriends and wives breaking up with the soldiers when they are deployed. Stories of cheating, gross malfeasance, embezzlement, etc. Instinctually, I’m pretty sure a lot of men like to visualize a story in which the men in a relationship do their part and the women do their part. Where the hero is admirable, but act like some friends they know about in that they are really stupid in some things. Where the heroine is a strong woman that can stand up in a moral challenge, to complement the physical courage of the main protector, the man.

    Honor Harrington, John Ringo’s Cally novel, and Miles Vorkosigan are science fiction dealing with wars in nature, but they are also have romance plotlines for the main characters sooner or later.

    As the societal roles for women and men change, people want to read about how things should be like. Certainly their personal relationships and the relationships of their friends are not so easy to solve.

    There’s one story, that while not a romance, was quite gripping in a historic and human sense. It was the “Gates of Fire” by Steven Pressfield. Heard about it from LTC Kurilla via Michael Yon. There’s no romance themes per say in it, but it does deal with the dynamic between men and women in war time. Which I think is one of the selling points for military science fiction romance novels. So, if you just visualize a person reading Gates of Fire and also reading military science fiction and romance novels, you could perhaps connect the dots.

  • Marguerite

    They may be changing, but I went BACK in time, following BW’s advice last month, I read two of Georgette Heyer’s romance novels: “The Nonesuch”, (elegant romance) and “The Conqueror” (as in William the . . .)and indeed, fell in love! What skill to be able to weave thoroughly researched 11th century history with a page-turner story. Although I longed for a dictionary steeped in old English. And while it was 105 degrees in Canada and I was air-conditioned hotel room-bound I happily read “Tell Me Lies” by Jennifer Cruise, another BW tip. Thanks, BW!

  • Earl

    Anyone read “Outlander” and its sequels? This is one that men could get into — at least, I did after some urging from my wife. It may be that, as Ymarsakar says, the male and female lead characters are a partnership….anyhow, good stuff. Written by a lady trained in Biology, I believe – another point in favor! :-)

  • Bookworm

    My husband has never forgotten the vacation where I spent more time with my nose in Outlander than I did admiring the view! I enjoyed the sequel to the book, but was exhausted by the time her third book rolled along.

    Incidentally, though not romance novels, have any of you read Dorothy Dunnett’s “Niccolo” series? They’re amazing, erudite, confusing, mezmerizing, totally enjoyable books. Although they’re a lot of work to read, since Dunnett has a rather eliptical writing style, I’ve always found them worth the effort — and that’s saying a lot, because I normally prefer my prose straightforward.